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VMFA-323 Brings 2007 Successful Deployment to a Close

Navy NewsStand

Story Number: NNS070827-09
Release Date: 8/27/2007 3:00:00 PM

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class (SW/AW) Matthew A. Hepburn, USS John C. Stennis Public Affairs

USS JOHN C. STENNIS, At Sea (NNS) -- The "Death-Rattlers" of Marine Strike Fighter Squadron (VMFA) 323 successfully completed a seven-month deployment aboard USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) Aug. 26.

VMFA-323, embarked aboard Stennis as part of Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 9, departed its home base of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, Calif., Jan. 20, for a regularly scheduled deployment in support of Operations Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

While deployed, the squadron provided close-air support and reconnaissance for coalition forces on the ground operating in Afghanistan and Iraq, and most recently supported exercise Valiant Shield, the largest military exercise of the year.

"We supported International Security Assistance Forces in Afghanistan, and coalition ground operations in Iraq," said Maj. Daniel Goodwin, VMFA-323 executive officer. "Basically, if we spotted something out of the ordinary, whether it was areas with mortar blasts, large groups of enemy activity or friendly troops under attack, we'd report it and quickly assist."

While operating in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility (AOR), the Death Rattlers flew more than 400 missions, providing more than 2,400 flight hours.

"We spent more than five months in a combat zone supporting OEF and OIF," said Goodwin. "It's fulfilling to support coalition ground units when and where they need it."

Stennis and CVW-9 continuously received feedback from troops on the ground expressing appreciation for the effectiveness of their precision bombing and strafing missions.

"We received a letter about midway through deployment about our operations," said Marine Cpl. Christopher Bautista, assigned to VMFA-323's F/A-18C Hornet communication and navigation department. "All of our ordnance was delivered on target, helping ground forces when they needed it. More importantly, we were told more than once we saved lives. It's very motivating to know the minor details you worked on helped keep friendly troops alive."

During the five months of combat operations in the 5th Fleet AOR, Stennis, CVW-9 and VMFA-323 participated in major exercises such as a dual-carrier exercise with Dwight D. Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, and an Expeditionary Strike Force training exercise with Nimitz Carrier Strike Group and Bonhomme Richard Expeditionary Strike Group.

Goodwin added that one of his personal highlights was watching Marines on their first deployment stepping up to the challenge and succeeding.

"A lot of our Marines are junior and have not been deployed before," said Goodwin. "It was nice to see them take charge and get the job done without any complications."

Valiant Shield also provided a valuable learning experience for VMFA-323's Marines.

"This exercise was vastly different than the combat operations we conducted in the 5th Fleet AOR," said Erwin. "It was very much a shift in focus compared to when were providing close-air support for ground troops.

"In Valiant Shield, we practiced attacking and defending ships. For a Marine squadron, our typical focus is supporting ground forces. However, being integrated into a carrier air wing, we are expected to expand our skill sets to cover all the operations carrier air wings will participate in, and overall, we did well."

Valiant Shield 2007 was a joint military exercise that brought together more than 30 ships including the Kitty Hawk and Nimitz Carrier Strike Groups, and a combined complement of 280 aircraft and more than 20,000 service members from the Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Bautista, a junior Marine who joined after completing two years of college, expressed his gratitude to serve.

"I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life," said Bautista. "I needed some kind of direction. I felt like enlisting was something I could do to prove to myself that I could follow through and figure out what I wanted for my future. Serving gives me feelings of honor, courage and self-discipline."

During port visits to Singapore and Hong Kong, Marines also participated in more than 20 community relations projects.

VMFA-323 flies the F/A-18C Hornet, a multipurpose fighter attack aircraft capable of supporting air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

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